KTM User Pages
10 Nov 2006 - 22:50
from Steve H:
My opinion, also stated on another thread, is that they need to set up an algebra test that is externally controlled and graded. This would be like the AP exam for calculus where lower schools could not fudge the numbers.
I agree with this absolutely. (Steve - do you recall the other thread in which this comment appears?) I would consider making such a test voluntary, and making it possible for parents to administer the test themselves - certainly after the fact, as New York state does with the Regents exams. I can't administer this year's Regents exam to my child, but I can have him take last year's if I choose. The point of tests is to focus schools on outputs, not inputs. I agree with Lynn that I hope they'll precisely define Algebra 1. But give us the test. Give us a test that mere mortals, i.e. parents, can use to determine whether our kids have learned what they should have learned in school this year.
political action? I think this may be a good issue for ktm. This site hasn't been involved in politics or lobbying, not because Carolyn and I thought politics or lobbying were off-limits, but because I guess we were both more concerned with figuring out how to afterschool our kids. (I shouldn't speak for Carolyn, so I'll revise this observation if she sees things differently.) As well, for me ktm and our Commenters have been extremely important to my project of "theorizing the problem." I've spent the past 18 months trying to figure out what's wrong with our schools. Then, after Christopher entered middle school, I began trying to understand what was wrong with my child's school in particular. When I say "trying to figure out what's wrong," I mean that I've been trying to "find the basic principle" (Temple Grandin's line): what is the central theme that ties everything together? From what center do all the separate, seemingly different problems radiate? Writing and reading Kitchen Table Math has been like writing a book. When I set out to write a book I have hundreds of disparate ideas stacked up in files, notebooks, my head.... In the case of Animals in Translation I must have had hundreds and hundreds of separate ideas about about animals and about autism, all of them from here, there, and everywhere. I think Temple and I drew on 7 different fields of research, in none of which I was an expert. Plus there were hundreds more ideas, facts, & discoveries inside Temple's head. I've never written about this, but my job as a coauthor is to.....basically be the California Closets person for briliant people who've spent their lives becoming expert in their fields. I rummage around inside their heads and publications, pull all the stuff out and dump it on the floor, then figure out how to put it all back together in some fantastic new combination that makes everyone want to plunk down twenty bucks to read about it. It's hard! With Temple is was harder, because we were working with so much material, and because her autism gets in the way. (She would be the first to say so.) When Temple and I began talking about Animals in Translation most of our interviews were about animals thinking in pictures. Animals do think in pictures, but she'd already written that book. My job was to keep interviewing her, keep reading, and keep thinking until I could figure out what else was "in there," what other "basic principle" could tie everything she'd learned about animals and autism over the years with everything I'd learned about autism and everything I was now learning about animals. I was trying to find the basic principle that pulled the contents of Temple's mind, the contents of my mind, and some of the contents of 7 different research fields together around a new basic principle neither of us had written about before. That's what Kitchen Table Math has been about for me - I've been trying to figure out how it all fits together. What is the central issue from which (nearly) every parent's & child's separate problem can be seen to result? These days I'm thinking that "inputs-not-outputs," or, more specifically, the refusal of public schools to teach to mastery is the central problem. I'm certain one could come up with other formulations, other "basic principles." But for me what has emerged from a year and a half of ktm is: Siegfried Engelmann is right. Siegfried Engelmann and E.D. Hirsch. Both men, in their different ways, tell us that we must:
When you take a step back they're saying the same thing the standards and accountability movement has been saying for 20 years: schools should set high standards and be held accountable for making sure students meet them. But the standards movement hasn't worked as people hoped. Ed school ideology is so impermeable to influence that reformulating "standards and accountability" to teach content to mastery may not work, either. I can't worry about that. Parents are demonstrably off the boat for "standards and accountability"; they might be happy to step onto a teach content to mastery boat - especially seeing as how many, perhaps most, parents believe the schools already are teaching content to mastery; it's just that their particular child didn't get it.
any ideas? Is there some way we can lobby the Panel to take Steve's advice? Any suggestions?
-- CatherineJohnson - 08 Nov 2006 Back to main page.
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"(Steve - do you recall the other thread in which this comment appears?)" Turbulence I feel that an externally-defined test is necessary. I guess it would have to be voluntary, but I would hope that high schools would strongly suggest that students take the test for proper placement in a high school math track. I have mentioned before that there is a curriculum and philosophy wall between high schools and lower schools. High schools are all about tracking and (for many students) preparation for college. In lower schools, mastery of content knowledge and skills is low on the priority list. This creates a curriculum and expectation gap between 8th and 9th grades. In our town, the high school has a difficult time placing students in the correct math course or track. One problem is that some straight 'A' CMP math students can't cut it in the AP calculus track, much to the surprise of the kids and their parents. The high school math teachers are loathe to directly criticize the lower schools. They also have no control and at best advise the lower schools to focus on study habits. The reasons and excuses to kids and their parents are vague. With a specific test and consistent grading across the nation, nothing will be vague. Schools can no longer just say (like ours do) that "our kids hold their own". A test is easier to implement than some big laundry list of recommendations from a panel that covers everything from how the brain works to teacher training. It's just not that complex, but defining the contents of a proper algebra course is not enough. There has to be some mechanism to force the change. The test can do that. "Ed school ideology is so impermeable to influence that reformulating "standards and accountability" to "teach content to mastery may not work, either." As I mentioned in the other thread, this 8th grade test is no guarantee. The schools could continue their fuzzy ways in the lower grades and then ramp up in 7th and 8th grades to get to the material on the test. Only the brightest (or externally-supported) kids will make the transition. Enough will do so that they will think that everything is just fine. However, I do think the test will force lower schools to pay attention to external expectations and give parents quantifiable numbers to compare. Over the long term, however, I advocate school choice. -- SteveH - 08 Nov 2006
Teach content to mastery is an excellent description of what should happen in a big picture kind of way. But how do you deal with schools claiming to teach to mastery when they don't? I think we really need national standards. I shudder to think that I actually wrote that sentence, as I have always thought innovation and local control were the best way to educate. My confidence has slipped as ed schools continue the downward spiral of achievement while claiming to be succeeding. Lay parents on school boards simply don't have the resources to provide an adequate check on administrators. I'm linking to two surveys, one of Principals and Administrators Survey and the other is a Parent Survey on Math These were both done by Reality Check. I don't know anything about them, but the surveys appear to have a reasonable methodology and sample size. After reading these, I wonder, are parents and administrators all delusional? Then I think Steve is right, a little school choice with some national standards might be a good thing. -- LynnGuelzow - 08 Nov 2006
Steve I'll look up your other comment. I gather you're talking about placement tests & final assessments (or are they the same thing?) -- CatherineJohnson - 08 Nov 2006
As I mentioned in the other thread, this 8th grade test is no guarantee. The schools could continue their fuzzy ways in the lower grades and then ramp up in 7th and 8th grades to get to the material on the test. Only the brightest (or externally-supported) kids will make the transition. Enough will do so that they will think that everything is just fine. However, I do think the test will force lower schools to pay attention to external expectations and give parents quantifiable numbers to compare. I agree. I've no experience predicting the outcomes of policies, but I know for a fact that such a test would help us enormously. If it would help me, it would help many other parents & kids. I absolutely believe that it would create a new form of pressure on the schools.....though you might get new crazed extremes of "teaching to the test"..... -- CatherineJohnson - 08 Nov 2006
But how do you deal with schools claiming to teach to mastery when they don't? Well, that's an interesting question. I wasn't aware that any schools are doing this. My own school does not claim to teach to mastery. They spiral, and they'll say so if you ask. Do many schools claim to teach to mastery? I had assumed most schools didn't claim this if only because they don't believe in memorization, which the word mastery somewhat implies. That is, schools prefer words like "explore" and "understand" to "mastery."
I think we really need national standards. Ed was part of the effort to write the History standards, which are probably superb. You can still order them online; I have a copy. Ed is now against a national curriculum (though he might be in favor of national standards - I'll have to ask). Talk about being mugged by reality. The fact that we have social studies instead of history is the cautionary tale on national standards.... The idea of the History standards was to create an excellent set of standards, which they did, and make them voluntary. As far as I'm concerned, that's perfect. Lynne Cheney was the villain in this instance. I'll get the story garbled a bit, but the NEH funded the development of the standards, Lynne Cheney approved them, and at the last moment she trashed them. And she trashed them on trivial, not substantive, grounds. The Standards had been vetted by everyone, negotiated with all "stakeholders" etc.... She trashed them on grounds that (iirc) a couple of very left-wing teachers' left-wing lessons had been included. Those lessons were not the standards, and could have (and would have) been removed if Cheney had said they needed to go. The whole thing was "political" in the bad sense of the term. It was a betrayal. -- CatherineJohnson - 08 Nov 2006
National standards will have a tough time surviving politics. You'd think that math would be above that, but maybe in the new bipartisan spirit wafting around we could set politics aside and agree on a good national math standard. Or a national algebra test. It's disheartening to read your story about the history standards. BTW, I think many schools claim to teach to mastery in Connecticut. That's because our state test is called the Connecticut Mastery Test. If students meet a 60% pass rate on the CMT, they have "met goal" or "mastered" the content. Within each strand, master also set. Parents get a strand by strand breakout of how their child performed, with the word mastery attached to each strand that they pass. This is called the "mastery criteria." Finally, you get a summary of the number of strands "mastered" and the overall "mastery score." The schools reinforce by telling parents that they are teaching to mastery, they just aren't expected to master anything at a particular time or sequence. The spiral allows teachers to hold out the illusion that mastery is being taught, just not necessarily right now. The Conn. Ed Department has done a masterful job of coopting the term "mastery," misapplying it, and still pushing spiraling curriculum at all costs. -- LynnGuelzow - 09 Nov 2006
BTW, I think many schools claim to teach to mastery in Connecticut. That's because our state test is called the Connecticut Mastery Test. Holy State Assessment Testing, Batman! -- CatherineJohnson - 09 Nov 2006
Why do I even bother coming up with schemes to coerce improvement from the schools? -- CatherineJohnson - 09 Nov 2006
Let me go to my surefire fallback position. A nationally created annual algebra one test (and algebra two, etc.) would be an enormous help to me, and to many other individual parents. -- CatherineJohnson - 09 Nov 2006
The Conn. Ed Department has done a masterful job of coopting the term "mastery," misapplying it, and still pushing spiraling curriculum at all costs.
-- CatherineJohnson - 09 Nov 2006
ok, does "mastery to a 90% criterion" have any hope of forcing responsibility onto schools and off of "tutors"? -- CatherineJohnson - 09 Nov 2006
Meanwhile I read one article after another about rich parents hiring expensive tutors to give their children an "edge." -- CatherineJohnson - 09 Nov 2006
oh yay this just made my day:
Education Starts at Home
yup that's what it takes diligent students raised by very interested parents that and a whole lot of money to pay the tutor -- CatherineJohnson - 09 Nov 2006
This is interesting:
School Choice by Default? Understanding the Demand for Private Tutoring in Canada Author(s) Scott Davies Identifiers American Journal of Education, volume 110 (2004), pages 233–255 DOI: 10.1086/383073 Copyright © 2004, The University of Chicago. This article links the demand for private tutoring to mounting desires for school choice. The number of private tutoring businesses is rapidly growing in Canada, even though its educational system lacks characteristics that spark a demand for those services in other countries. Testing ideas derived from the school choice literature, I examine which kinds of parents hire and desire private tutors and how this demand is linked to other educational preferences. Using data from a national survey, I find that parents who hire or desire tutoring do not generally differ from other parents in their demographics or political ideology. However, though parents who employ tutors are generally satisfied with public education, they are less satisfied than other parents and tend to be more involved in their children's schooling. The largest effect is that parents who employ tutors are greatly more desiring of private schooling than other parents. I conclude that for many parents, private tutoring represents a "school choice by default," an affordable alternative to private schools. School Choice by Default? Understanding the Demand for Private Tutoring in Canada (pdf file)-- CatherineJohnson - 09 Nov 2006
If I am reading that correctly, parents that are involved with their children's education are generally less satisfied with public education than parents that are less involved? It is an inverse relationship? That wouldn't surprise me, as the more I learn about public school education, the more it feels like watching hot dog manufacturing. But it seems like ignorance is really bliss when it comes to education. The less you are involved, the happier you'll be (but delusional, I suppose). I am way past glum over Connecticut state standards. Unless we get national standards, mastery is not going to be meaningful. Without higher standards, we can still put 6 x 7 = ? on the 6th grade test and claim this is an adequate test of mastery of 6th grade level content. or : "Charlie bought a telescope for $148.95 including tax. He gave the clerk $200. Which of the following is a reasonable estimate for the change Charlie should receive?" The correct answer is "A little more than $50." Maybe I expect too much, but these don't feel like a good test of mastery of 6th grade math. Both of these were taken from the most recent released items for the newest generation of CMT. Yet, we have a lot of kids fail even this pathetically low standard. Asking for higher standards seems like wishful thinking when far too many kids can't "master" a low level test. -- LynnGuelzow - 09 Nov 2006
"National standards will have a tough time surviving politics." But AP Calculus (and the exam) exist. Why? This externally-defined exam forces all high schools to meet its requirements. They have to work backwards to Freshman year to get it all to work. If it wasn't for the AP Calculus exam, many high schools would have nothing but fluff math courses. The whole line-up of AP courses define, in effect, a national curriculum for the honors track. However, other students can benefit from these rigorous courses, even if they never get to AP Calculus. We need the same sort of exams for the lower schools. Think of them as high school placement tests. Our lower schools would be under great pressure to offer courses that lead to these exams. Right now, all they offer is CMP with a little bit of algebra. The schools claim that our kids "hold their own", but with a test, it will be easy for parents to decide for themselves. -- SteveH - 09 Nov 2006
"I think many schools claim to teach to mastery in Connecticut. That's because our state test is called the Connecticut Mastery Test." This is very sad. I grew up in CT in the public schools. They were good. Now I live in the state just to the east. We have "Standards-Based Education". Of course, the standards are pathetically poor. -- SteveH - 09 Nov 2006
Surprisingly the California standards are pretty good. The schools just can't achieve them. -- BenCalvin - 09 Nov 2006
"But the standards movement hasn't worked as people hoped." A lot of quality education terms have been hijacked by educationists and neutralized or redefined. For example, "literacy" doesn't mean what normal people think it means. It's been absurdly broadened to include everything under the sun. "Standards" was a particularly nettlesome quality education term that had to be defanged by educationists. Now vague visions visited upon outfits like NCTM are labeled "standards" and have found their way into state "standards" (with a few notable exceptions). -- CharlesH - 09 Nov 2006
I agree with Charles and Steve. Standards don't mean standards. But there are areas of hope. Massachusetts seems to have done a good job of defining state math standards in a way that is clear. Connecticut still claims achievement at or near the top. From what I've seen, it is largely due to many wealthy parents that pay for tutoring. The same terrible curriculum is used in both wealthy suburbs and in the inner cities. The inner cities rank near the bottom of the US and the suburbs near the top. There is lots of debate around here on why this should be so. We all use the same state frameworks and the same constructivist curriculum, why the disparities? Usually, the credit in the suburbs are on the great schools and choice of curriculum, and the blame in cities is put on poverty and parents. I agree that AP has done a great job of raising the bar in an easily measured way. While my rather average, high achieving, award winning suburban school district boasts greater AP participation and a reasonable pass rate, you have to dig deeper to find the problems. In our case, no one is taking or passing the AP exams in the upper level math and science areas. It has been 3 years since AP physics or chemistry was offered, the last time they were offered only 1 student took the AP exam. Calculus has suffered a similar fate. While it had reasonable participation, last year it disappeared. When I ask the supt. or dc about this, they shrug and tell me that students aren't interested in calculus, physics, and chemistry. Our growing AP participation is in French, U.S.History, English, etc. I like the humanities. I'm glad kids are taking these courses. But no one else thinks the reason for low participation in math and science is due to lack of preparedness. Kids that struggle in IMP math, or hit the wall in Honors Trig, don't sign up for calculus. The problem started years ago, but the superintendent gets away with a shrug. Not her problem. -- LynnGuelzow - 09 Nov 2006
My conclusion from my one experience here in Connecticut is that a voluntary test, while a good start, won't solve the problem. We need clear national standards starting with algebra. If we have a voluntary test that parents give their kids, the educrats will come up with a whole laundry list of why the test is not a good measure of conceptual understanding and only measures students ability to, snif, spit out memorized formulas. blah, blah, blah. A national standard on a rigorous algebra test is needed. I'll bet the Universities would love it. It would really help reduce the amount of remediation for basic math needed at the collegiate level. -- LynnGuelzow - 09 Nov 2006
"Not her problem." They can't or won't criticize the lower schools, and by high school, it's easier to blame external reasons. The kids don't know any better. They come to believe that they are just not good in math. They don't like math. The lower schools don't think there is a problem because some kids do well and they just compare themselves with other towns. There is no outside reference point or mechanism to force change. -- SteveH - 09 Nov 2006
"A national standard on a rigorous algebra test is needed." OK, everybody on the bus. If it can be done for AP Calculus, then it can be done for algebra in 8th grade. There are no guarantees that lower schools have the ability to prepare kids for that test, but I wouldn't advocate eliminating the AP Calculus track because a high school can't get the job done. If you can't define and test where you are going, then you aren't going to get there. Ultimately, however (see Ben's comment), school choice will be the only way to force real, absolute change. -- SteveH - 09 Nov 2006
Steve: "But AP Calculus (and the exam) exist. Why?" It's a privately generated exam that's rigorous enough that most colleges accept it, not a publicly generated exam that is subject to political pressure. And it's popular enough that many people pay for the opportunity to take it. The problem is that most parents don't really think about their kids' academic achievement until high school, and the problems (as we've discussed at length) start much earlier. Perhaps if there were a commonly available test that gave kids HS credit before they actually got to HS, that could have the same effect as the APs. -- DougSundseth - 09 Nov 2006
"Perhaps if there were a commonly available test that gave kids HS credit before they actually got to HS, that could have the same effect as the APs." That's the idea. We can only hope. -- SteveH - 09 Nov 2006
Alright. I'm on the bus. Who's driving? -- LynnGuelzow - 09 Nov 2006
i nominate catherine. -- VlorbikDotCom - 09 Nov 2006
Analogous to the AP Calculus exams (there are two, AB and BC) being rigorous exit exams for Calculus, you could probably consider the SAT I as an exit exam for Algebra II + Geometry (in whatever order you take these in your district). There, we've got exit exams for 12th and 10th. Now we need some for 8th and 6th. -- GoogleMaster - 09 Nov 2006
i nominate catherine. what's that old line, "Should I be nominated I will not accept....etc." hey! How about VLORBIK! -- CatherineJohnson - 10 Nov 2006
Seriously, though, we should brainstorm a bit. My mind is a blank at the moment.....but we can come up with something....
There, we've got exit exams for 12th and 10th. Now we need some for 8th and 6th. That sounds right to me - but what does everyone else think? (I don't know enough to assume that SAT I works for algebra II & geometry - ) -- CatherineJohnson - 10 Nov 2006
oh - I just realized the logistical problem with SAT I is that if you take it, it goes on your record. We need a national, standardized assessment (or criterion referenced assessment, actually) people can take more than once. That is, you take it, see what you know and don't know; then take it again. Actually, I suspect we need something more like the Key Math assessment - what do you think? We need to be able to assess gaps, not just final subject matter mastery - right? -- CatherineJohnson - 10 Nov 2006
There are so many practice SAT exams now available that just about any parent should be able to find one free or cheap if that were the benchmark. Taking a practice test at home won't go on anyone's record and it gives parents a signal. One potential problem with the SAT is the many, many non-mathematical strategies that kids are taught to use to get a higher score despite not knowing the math. When I was studying with my son for the SAT it was very clear from the prep materials that if you were weak on the math, you could boost your score by plugging in each of the multiple choice answers and see which one created a true equation. There are definite ways around learning all the algebra and still getting a decent score on the test. -- LynnGuelzow - 10 Nov 2006
Lynn, I always forget about the SAT prep materials. Back when most of us took the SATs, I think the prep classes and materials existed, but I never knew anyone who used them. Maybe the people who were borderline for getting into the state schools. Since it's been quite a few years, and they've changed the tests significantly (they allow calculators!!!), and people's approach to them has changed, maybe my statement isn't as valid as it used to be. But I do seem to recall that most of the material on the math SAT was geometry and algebra. -- GoogleMaster - 10 Nov 2006
Oh, and you can take them multiple times if you want. Just takes more $$. -- GoogleMaster - 10 Nov 2006